The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) is asking the provincial government to reverse its decision to abruptly end the basic income guarantee (BIG) pilot project.
The three-year-pilot project was launched last year but last month the PC government announced it was scrapping it. The program was being run in several cities including in Lindsay, part of the HKPR health unit’s jurisdiction. More than 4,000 people provincewide were taking part in the project, which guaranteed a basic annual income.
HKPR’s board of health endorsed the pilot program in 2016 and echoed that statement in a letter to the province, noting that eliminating poverty is an urgent public health issue.
“The province’s decision is extremely concerning because the basic income guarantee was an innovative program that had the potential to pay dividends in the fight against poverty,” stated Kristina Nairn, a social determinants of health nurse with the HKPR District Health Unit.
“We are urging the provincial government to reconsider its decision because the research from Ontario’s pilot program would have been invaluable in seeing if basic income guarantee could cut poverty, help people pay their bills, support better health, and improve education and job prospects.”
Nairn argues that not only will the 4,000 enrolled in the pilot will be impacted, but also the estimated 1.7 million Ontarians currently living in poverty.
“BIG is a key approach that could help reduce the economic barriers to good health and ensure low-income individuals and families have sufficient income to meet their basic needs and live with dignity,” she said. “Without this research from the pilot program, we will never know for sure, and I think all of us in Ontario are poorer because of it.”
Mary-Lou Mills, another social determinants of health nurse, says poverty takes a human and social toll which leads to higher health-care costs.
“The BIG program had the potential to save taxpayer dollars, by reducing hospital emergency room visits, hospitalizations, work-related injuries, and mental health treatment,” she said. “Participants in the Lindsay pilot have already experienced benefits of BIG in terms of improved housing, ability to further education to improve employment opportunities, ability to purchase more nutritious food and reduced reliance on food banks.”
Seeing the three-year pilot program through to the end would have provided a clearer picture of its potential benefits.
“In many ways, the basic income guarantee approach mirrors other successful policies like the guaranteed income supplement for seniors,” said Mills.